Vanity Fair on Bill Clinton’s “sometimes questionable associations”

Chris Matthews’ “Big Question” this morning was, will Hillary lead her army into the cause of Barack Obama? His panel all agreed she would, reluctantly, but Howard Fineman was noteworthy for his emphasis on Bill:

The key for Barack Obama is to win back Bill Clinton… [he has] to tell Bill Clinton, “You’re the man again. You’re back. Come back. You’ve been resurrected. You’re no longer the anti-guy… You’re the first black president all over again.”

Uh… I’m nonplussed! Can’t imagine it! Apparently Howard doesn’t put much stock in stories told in Vanity Fair…

The July Issue features Todd Purdum telling Bubba Troubles: The Comeback Id. Purdum covered Clinton since ’92 and is married to Clinton’s first press secretary, Dee Dee Myers:

Over the last few years, aides have winced at repeated tabloid reports about Clinton’s episodic friendship and occasional dinners out with Belinda Stronach, a twice-divorced billionaire auto-parts heiress and member of the Canadian Parliament 20 years his junior, or at more recent high-end Hollywood dinner-party gossip that Clinton has been seen visiting with the actress Gina Gershon in California. There has been talk of a female friend in Chappaqua, a woman in a bar at a meeting of the Aspen Institute, and a public sighting of Clinton, Bing, and a ravishing entourage in a New York elevator that, a former Clinton aide told me, led a business leader who saw them to say: I don’t know what the guy was doing, but it was so clear that it was just no good. None of these wisps of smoke have produced a public fire.

I have deep roots in Westchester, NY, that have long urged me to believe that precisely these sexcapade tales are true. But while the sex is what has already gotten most of the early attention it is not what’s worrisome about this article. The ethical recklessness is worth worrying about. A teensy-weensy sample:

In his book Giving, an extended Hallmark hymn to the virtues of venture philanthropy, Clinton writes that Burkle’s provision of post–White House work was the “only private sector offer I accepted” upon leaving office. In fact, that is not true: Clinton has also collected more than $3 million in consulting fees from InfoUSA, a data-mining company headed by a longtime contributor, Vinod Gupta, a Nebraska multi-millionaire who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Clintons’ campaigns. The company has drawn media scrutiny for allegedly selling consumer data about vulnerable senior citizens to unscrupulous telemarketers, and some shareholders once sued InfoUSA, charging that Gupta wasted nearly $1 million in company funds flying the Clintons around the world. (InfoUSA did not respond to a request for comment.)

But Clinton’s business relationship with Burkle is far and away his largest source of income after books and speeches: $15.4 million between 2003 and 2007, according to the Clintons’ recently released tax returns. That amounts to about 20 percent of all the income that Clinton earned in those years. Until the release of the tax returns this year, Hillary Clinton’s Senate financial-disclosure forms had revealed only that Clinton earned “more than $1,000” a year from his partnerships with Burkle.

And what of Clinton’s health?

But if much about Clinton is familiar to one who covered him in his prime, other aspects of his appearance and demeanor are unsettling. He is visibly older and thinner. His hair is whiter and his countenance paler. At times, as the day wears on, he makes an odd cotton-mouth sound, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth as he talks…. By the standards of the males in his family, Clinton is a very old man indeed. His father died at 28, three months before his son was born, and his maternal grandfather, who helped raise him, died at 58, so Clinton has long faced atypical intimations of his own mortality. Many of those who know him well say he now tires more easily, and loses energy. [...]

That is hardly surprising: not quite four years ago, Clinton underwent quadruple-bypass surgery to relieve blocked arteries in his heart, a procedure whose comparative commonness in the modern medical world belies the range of subtle, complex, and not always obvious complications that can follow it. “He’s recovered much, much more slowly from the heart surgery than anybody thought,” one former aide told me. “He still has energy, but not stamina. He can recover, but he used to do that nonstop, with three hours’ sleep.”

As a private citizen—albeit a very prominent one—Clinton has not received anything like the post-surgical media attention he would have if he were still president, and many details of his treatment in recent years are not known. After his first surgery, The New York Times reported that he would take a range of medications, including a beta-blocker to maintain regular heartbeats, a statin to lower his cholesterol, an ace inhibitor to control high blood pressure, and aspirin to thin his blood. These medications may cause a range of side effects, including fatigue, muscle pain, dehydration, depression, and impotence. Coronary bypass can also cause subtle changes in cognition, which may, or may not, be temporary. There is further medical disagreement about whether such changes are caused in part by small particles of plaque that are discharged by the heart-lung machine and sent to the brain, or by the underlying artery disease itself. If a patient has arterial disease in his heart, he could have it in his brain too.

Could that have had some impact on the campaign trail?

Perhaps no figure in modern American politics has less standing to say “Shame on you!” than Bill Clinton, but he said just that—twice—to a hapless reporter who asked him in January about comments by a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman comparing Clinton’s tactics to those of the late Lee Atwater, the take-no-prisoners Republican strategist known for racially charged campaigns.

As the days wore on, the former Senate Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle said Clinton’s behavior was “not keeping with the image of a former president.” His former labor secretary and onetime friend turned critic, Robert Reich, called Clinton’s attacks on Obama “ill-tempered and ill-founded.” No less a loquacious commentator than the Reverend Al Sharpton said that it was time for Clinton to just “shut up.” His old flame Gennifer Flowers, who has endorsed Hillary, referred to him as an “idiot husband.” Congressman James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking black member of the House of Representatives, who pointedly had remained neutral in the primary, finally called Clinton’s behavior “bizarre.”

Ben Smith has Clinton’s 6 page reply. I’ve yet to read its 2,000+ words. (I may comment once I do.)

I’d suggest Obama NOT take Fineman’s advice. And I urge you to read the whole Vanity Fair piece. Lest you think it a baseless hatchet job, I quote some of Purdum’s reasoning from the piece in the extended entry…

To know Clinton is, sooner or later, to be exasperated by his indiscipline and disappointed by his shortcomings. But through it all, it has been easy enough to retain an enduring admiration—even affection—for a president whose sins against decorum and the dignity of his office seemed venial in contrast to the systemic indifference, incompetence, corruption, and constitutional predations of his successor’s administration. That is, easy enough until now.

This winter, as Clinton moved with seeming abandon to stain his wife’s presidential campaign in the name of saving it, as disclosures about his dubious associates piled up, as his refusal to disclose the names of donors to his presidential library and foundation and his and his wife’s reluctance to release their income-tax returns created crippling and completely avoidable distractions for Hillary Clinton’s own long-suffering ambition, I found myself asking again and again, What’s the matter with him?

As I sought to answer that question for myself, in conversations with dozens of current and onetime Clinton aides, many of whom I have known all these years (Clinton himself declined to be interviewed), I realized just how much about the former president is not known, and not knowable, at the moment, mostly because of his unapologetic stonewalling. Virtually no one, except Ron Burkle, knows just what Clinton put into Burkle’s investment business, or just what he has done since to earn millions of dollars, with the prospect of reaping millions more. Most of the names of the donors who have contributed some $500 million to Clinton’s library and foundation over the past decade are not known, either. Virtually no one, except his doctors and family, knows the precise state of Clinton’s health. Virtually no one really knows what strategic role he has played in his wife’s campaign.

Oh, and, I’m not fond of the “Butt boy” sobriquet for Douglas Band who actually seems to come through this story relatively unscathed.

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  • runasim

    What I disliked most about McClellan's book was the timing. El;ection years produce too many tell-all books, in line with our anything -for-profit mentality.
    I would say the same about this Vanity Fair expose..

    In doing a thorough kill-Bill job, Purdum seems to have devoted a lot of time to yellow journalism tyoe innuendos. Bill has had dinner with female X…wink, wink.
    This is just fodder for salacious gossip. and is nobody's business but the Clintns.
    Even Bill's health is written up in the same nosy, gossipy way, complete with the same innuendo: since there are things we don't know, there must be suspicious and deplorable things going on.
    Vultures come to mind.

    I find repellant the whole idea of feeling entitled to know every single detail of others' private lives, and feeling justified to profit from disbursing such information, to boot.

    This taints my opinion of Purdum's article and of Vanity Fair.
    To be fair, then, I'll have to wair until the bad aftertaste has disappeared before reading about the business dealings, an altogether different kind of topic.

  • StockBoySF

    runasim, I agree with you.

  • GAPeach1125

    If it's the truth, what difference does it make about the timing. That is tthe problem, we want to hide the truth until a ” so called” appropriate time! There is nothing new in the book, he simpy comfirms what we already knew.

  • runasim

    “If it's the truth, what difference does it make about the timing”

    That's a fair question, and I'm not sure what the answer. is in each of these cases (Purdum and McClellan).
    There is also truth served up at the most propitious time in order to indluence elections, though.or to maximize profits. This could be especially significan when truth comes wrapped in such heavy layers of mere impressions and speculation.

  • kritt11

    Although I'm sure money was a partial motive, I don't think it was the key motive for McClellan, who seems to want to cleanse himself of the Bush sleaze.

    Also, If he waits until after the 2008 election and McCain wins and continues many of the Bush policies, there will be many who will criticize him (probably myself included!) for waiting until it was too late to make any difference.

  • kritt11

    BTW- Bill Clinton will always chase women– he is a deeply flawed person who at the same time was mostly competent and made intelligent decisions as president (except for his personal life) I don't condone his cheating, but I am far more interested in the public lives of our politicians- as long as they don't break any laws.

    His personal shenanigans are only important in that they have proven to be detrimental to the Democrats in general and to HIllary Clinton and Al Gore in particular.